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New Yorkers Give Tearful Sendoff to Latin Music Icon Celia Cruz - 2003-07-23


New Yorkers crowded the streets Tuesday for a tearful sendoff to Latin music icon, 77-year-old Celia Cruz, at her Manhattan funeral.

She was known as La Reina - the Queen of Salsa. Celia Cruz was a popular Cuban-born vocalist whose career spanned almost 60 years and 70 albums. Ms. Cruz died Wednesday, July 16 after a battle with brain cancer.

Thousands lined Fifth Avenue, waiting for the horse-drawn carriage bearing her coffin to pass on its journey to St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Mimi Trujillo said she came to pay her respects because she has been a fan for 30 years, and because Celia Cruz was a Latina New Yorker, like her. "I'm from Argentina and I think for all the Latinos who live in New York, it's our music. It's our music because it was born New York, the salsa, okay? She comes from Cuba, but I don't care. It's New York music," she said.

Many in the crowd waved small Cuban and American flags. Some carried portable radios. Her music, which includes mambo, cha-cha and rumba, was heard along the streets.

Some spectators wore T-shirts bearing Celia Cruz's signature saying, "Sugar." They shouted it out in Spanish.

"Azucar! Azucar!"

Al Fuentes, a friend of Celia Cruz, waited on the sidewalk with a group of family friends. "She was just a great person and a great musician. If you ever met Celia you would know that her spirit is everywhere. She is unbelievable," he said.

Two white horses led a flower-covered carriage carrying Ms. Cruz's gold coffin. As the procession moved down the avenue, the sky turned an ominous gray. Thunder crackled and a downpour began.

But the heavy rain did not silence Celia Cruz's fans. They were saying, "The sky is crying. You are singing."

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